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    LET'S BEGIN SIMPLY

1/2/02

    Our union’s publications have been thematically consistent about the need to raise academic standards in ways that go beyond the mandates of state and the soon to be national high stakes tests. For communities like Plainview-Old Bethpage, these high tests will inevitably lead to a lowering of standards as these exams begin to set the level of what students need to know rather than be the indicators of minimum accomplishment that they have historically been.  In fact, these external exams may have already contributed to a weakening of the intellectual rigor of our school program. 

    But how shall we actually go about raising our local academic standards? In my view, demanding that our students perform to the highest levels of their capability is simpler to implement than it is to endure politically. In this and the next few issues of TeacherTalk I hope to outline some of the steps that need to be taken to restore higher levels of legitimate pride in our schools.

    For starters, let’s get serious about attendance and punctuality. Students who are excessively absent and/or habitually late do not accomplish as much as they might. While our district has a minimum attendance policy, many of our students exceed the number of absences permitted and still receive academic credit. Often, the only ones to bear the sanctions for excessive absences are those whose parents either accept the penalty because they believe the punishment to be deserved or who lack the political know-how to get their children off the hook. One way or another, the very uneven enforcement of the attendance policy sends a very unintended message. It says we don’t really care about students being in school every day. It says it is perfectly alright for parents to make vacation plans that have their children missing school for days on end. It says we aren’t serious about the rules we make - one of the worst messages for adults to communicate to children. If students are allowed to get the impression that we don’t care if they attend school regularly or not, what are they going to think we care about?

    While vain attempts are made at dealing with student absences, student lateness is essentially ignored. Yet, its impact on the dynamic of the classroom is probably worse than absence. Each time a student walks into a classroom late, the teacher and those who were there on time are interrupted as the latecomer’s attendance must be changed and steps taken to involve the late person in the lesson. These days, particularly our teenage students offer the lamest excuses for being late. "I was tired this morning," I went to a concert last night," I stayed up too late last night." Statements like these are made by students to their teachers everyday without any appreciation that there is anything wrong with their attitude. Sadly, sometimes their parents see things the same way.

    It may seem strange to some that the first topic I address under the heading of improving the academic standards of our district is attendance and punctuality. Yet, as I think of the things that must be done, I believe the clearest message we can send that we are taking the mission of our schools more seriously is to make clear that we expect students to be in class on time each day. It needs to be clear to the entire school community that teachers, administrators and parents agree on the central importance of attendance and punctuality to the academic program and the self-discipline of our students.

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